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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1635


Senator McINTOSH(1.26) —I take this opportunity to look at the question of nuclear dumping and I am very pleased that the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) is on duty. Australia has yet to ratify an important international treaty which covers the ocean dumping of nuclear waste-the London Dumping Convention-which was set up in 1972. It moved into a new era in 1983 when member countries voted to place a two-year moratorium on all ocean dumping of radioactive wastes. During the moratorium a scientific study is being conducted by countries party to the Convention to assess the safety of sea dumping. Despite opposition by the United States, Britain, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and South Africa at the time of the moratorium vote it seems that public pressure has forced all dumping nations to postpone their dumping programs until the next London Dumping Convention meeting in September of this year.

The reason for the British opposition to the moratorium is clear. Britain is the world's largest ocean radioactive waste dumper and has reportedly abandoned altogether research into the land based alternatives for nuclear waste storage. Waste from its uranium processing plant at Sellafield, previously known as Windscale, is being deposited in the Irish Sea with Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands. It drops other nuclear waste into a dumping ground about 200 kilometres off north-west Spain. The American vote against the moratorium contradicts its own legislation establishing a similar domestic moratorium.

The London Dumping Convention moratorium was prompted by concern by Pacific nations over Japanese plans to begin dumping low level waste in the region. The proposed dumping site is immediately north of the northern Marianas Islands and is about 900 kilometres south-east of Tokyo. The Japanese Science and Technology Agency has made conflicting statements about its dumping plan at first claiming that it was determined to proceed in spite of Pacific opposition or any decision by the London Dumping Convention. Its spokesman has tempered more recent comments claiming that the dumping will be carried out with the understanding of the countries and territories concerned. The Japanese Prime Minister, Mr Nakasone, told the National Press Club in Canberra on 16 January this year:

I am fully aware that the countries in the South Pacific have expressed concern over our plans to dispose of low-level radioactive waste in the ocean. I wish to take the opportunity to state that, believing that safety and regional understanding are essential in this matter, we have no intentions of carrying out such disposal in disregard of the concern expressed by the communities of the region.

The people of the northern Pacific region, closest to the dump site, are concerned that their opposition to the dumping is being deliberately disregarded by Japan. The statement by Mr Nakasone and his Foreign Minister, Mr Able, on 20 January, that 'Japan will not dump without the consensus of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea' cannot be reassuring. A further issue being considered by the London Dumping Convention is the seabed emplacement of high level nuclear wastes. The seabed emplacement program would involve placing billions of curies of long-life radioactive waste into the ocean environment and would dwarf all existing or proposed low-level dumping schemes. The United States, Japan and Britain, as well as a coalition of other countries in the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, have been studying this option for several years. United States research vessels have concentrated on a prime site in the northern Pacific, exactly the same region as the proposed Japanese low-level dump site. Three other sites are also under study-one in the mid-north Atlantic, one near the Caribbean, and another off the coast of Africa.

In summary, the ninth meeting of the London Dumping Convention in September this year will consider the following issues of crucial importance to the countries of our region: First, a report assessing the safety of any form of ocean dumping; secondly, seabed emplacement of radioactive wastes; thirdly, definitions from the International Atomic Energy Agency of the radioactivity suitable for dumping; and fourthly, a proposal from Nauru and Kiribati for a total ban on any ocean dumping.

The Slatyer report on Australia's role in the nuclear fuel cycle recommends a number of actions Australia could take on ocean dumping issues. These include ratifying the London Dumping Convention; supporting South Pacific attempts to impose regional bans on nuclear waste dumping; and participating in scientific assessments of the safety of dumping. Pending the outcome of these assessments, Australia should support a moratorium on the ocean dumping of radioactive waste. There is no evidence from the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment that any of these steps have been taken, and I draw the attention of the Minister to this while he is in the chamber.